Mark Webber has finally claimed victory for the first time since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, capitalising on a faltering gearbox for team-mate Sebastian Vettel to assume a lead he would never relinquish. Vettel brought his car home in second, while Jenson Button rounded out the podium after passing Fernando Alonso for third as the 2011 championship season was finally signed off.
Despite near guarantees for wet weather on Sunday, the rain stayed away despite the looming presence of black clouds over the Interlagos circuit. Those who had gambled on running a set-up better suited to mixed conditions might find themselves struggling over the 71-lap race.
In a shake-up to tradition, there was no accident at the first corner when the race got underway, with pole-sitter Vettel sweeping into an early lead as Webber made his by now customary poor getaway. This time, the Australian managed to fend off the attacks from the McLarens and a fast-starting Alonso on the run through the opening sequence of corners, but his hopes of challenging Vettel for the win seemed a pipedream, as the German quickly set about building himself an early lead.
By the fifth lap, Vettel had pulled out a 2.5-second lead over the chasing pack, with Webber settling into a comfortable rhythm, steadily pulling away from the chasing trio of Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.
But it was as early as the tenth lap that alarm bells began sounding against another Vettel win. His radio messages warning of a gearbox problem became increasingly insistent, and Webber steadily began to reel the young German in.
But everyone’s attention was also focused on the tight battle for third, with Button increasingly struggling on the softer Pirelli rubber in his efforts to keep Fernando Alonso behind him. The Spaniard eventually launched an attack on the eleventh lap to seal the deal, making a mightily impressive pass on the McLaren around the outside of the Ferradura corner – surely a contender for ‘Overtaking Move of the Year’.
At the same time, Michael Schumacher’s hopes of a points’ finish went belly-up when he was tagged by Bruno Senna at Turn 1 on the tenth lap. Having managed to slipstream around the outside of the Brazilian along the main straight, Schumacher turned towards the apex and found Senna still arguing the corner, leaving his braking too late.
Senna clipped the left-rear of Schumacher, giving the German a puncture and a whole lap to trail around the pits to get it repaired. Schumacher would rejoin in last place and a lap adrift, eventually finishing fifteenth. Senna would be handed a drive-through penalty, and finished two spots further back in 17th after he lost some gears mid-race.
With these incidents having played out, Vettel managed to hold onto his lead through the first round of pit stops, but there was a sense of inevitability about Webber getting by and taking control of the race.
On Lap 30, the deed was done as Vettel surrendered Turn 1 to Webber and let the Australian through to claim the win. While winning this way may not sit well with everyone, it was still an important victory for Webber, who had endured a rough season, having been soundly thrashed by his younger team-mate all year.
Webber would go on to win by almost seventeen seconds, while Vettel had enough in hand – curiously posting fastest sector splits from time to time, despite his gearbox issues – to finish second.
Third place went to Button, who took the unusual strategic decision of running the medium Pirelli tyre compounds from about half-distance. Clearly happier on the more durable rubber, Button set about closing down Alonso, and he used a dose of KERS and DRS to zoom by the Spaniard on Lap 62.
The result cemented a fine second in the championship standings for Button, with Webber’s win ensuring he would sneak ahead of Alonso to claim third overall.
But it was another scoreless round for Lewis Hamilton, who also suffered the clearly trendy gearbox problem; he parked his McLaren with a box full of neutrals on the 48th lap.
Another quiet run to fifth place went to Felipe Massa, who tried to run one fewer stop that much of the field. The gamble didn’t quite pay off, as Button was able to pass him en route to overtaking Alonso.
One of the drives of the day was undoubtedly that by Adrian Sutil, who finished an excellent sixth – two spots ahead of team-mate Paul di Resta – to equal the team’s best result of the season, bringing it tantalisingly close to Renault (just four points) in the Constructors’ Championship. It seems incredibly that Sutil’s future with the team is in doubt, as he has driven very maturely all year, with this race simply hammering the point home.
Sandwiched by the Force India cars was Nico Rosberg, who had a pretty anonymous race as he picked up a few more points in Mercedes’ fiftieth Grand Prix, while the final points’ positions were claimed by Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov.
Kobayashi’s ninth place guaranteed Sauber seventh place in the Constructors’ standings, a position that they’d seemed destined to lose after a poor second half of the championship. But back-to-back non-scoring races for rival outfit Toro Rosso, who seemed strangely off the boil this weekend, ensured the vital extra millions in funding would go Sauber’s way this year.
After making a poor start when the lights went out, Rubens Barrichello drove his heart out and finished 14th. With his future at Williams very up in the air, it seemed more than a little unfair that the Brazilian doesn’t yet know his future beyond this weekend. Will we see him on the grid in a twentieth year in the sport? Who knows…
As usual, Heikki Kovalainen led the charge of the sophomore teams and ensured Team Lotus would finish tenth in the Constructors’ Championship. The team’s much-hyped rear wing did little to improve its performance, and it seemed stuck in the gulf between the lower midfield, but well ahead of the two backmarker outfits, HRT F1 and Virgin Racing.
Those two teams once had one runner apiece make the chequered flag. Timo Glock retired early on when his pit crew made an elementary error of not fasting the left-rear wheel on to the car during his first pit stop, while Vitantonio Liuzzi retired late in the race when his alternator packed it in.
2011 Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (71 laps):
|1.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||71||1:32:17.464|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||71||+ 16.983|
|3.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||71||+ 27.638|
|4.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||71||+ 35.048|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||71||+ 1:06.733|
|6.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||70||1 lap behind|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||70||1 lap behind|
|8.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||70||1 lap behind|
|9.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||70||1 lap behind|
|10.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||70||1 lap behind|
|11.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||70||1 lap behind|
|12.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||70||1 lap behind|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||70||1 lap behind|
|14.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||70||1 lap behind|
|15.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||70||1 lap behind|
|16.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||69||2 laps behind|
|17.||Bruno Senna||Lotus Renault GP R31||69||2 laps behind|
|18.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||69||2 laps behind|
|19.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||68||3 laps behind|
|20.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||68||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||61||Alternator|
|DNF.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||47||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||26||Spin|
|DNF.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||21||Lost wheel|
|Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||71||1:15.324|
Click here to view the final Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship standings.
[Images via FOM, Sutton Images]